Do I dare tell my students the truth?{14}

We are week 4 into the semester and I can see the fervor for science rising in a subset of my students. This stuff is amazing and they want to be a part of it. I feel an obligation to keep them grounded and I do so with the reality check components of my assignments. “Calculate the cost of the experiment you just proposed.” “What are the ethical implications of the discoveries we just discussed?” “How long would this take you to do?”
But some cowardice remains when it comes to sharing some of the harshest realities of life as a biomedical scientist. Do I tell them about the old boys network and how hard it is for a young scientist to get started? Do I tell them about the esteemed scientists who troll scientific meeting looking for ideas to steal? Do I tell them about spending three sleepless months writing and rewriting ones best ideas ever only to find out six months later that the grant proposal was judged so poor as to be “unscorable”? No, I don’t think I want to tell them about that. Instead, I think I’ll tell them about Joe.
I met Joe in 2002. I was a young assistant professor selected to give a talk at a conference at the Cold Spring Harbor Labs. The Nobel Prize had just been awarded in our field and two of the three laureates were scheduled to attend the meeting. My work was edgy, risky, novel to be sure, or so I thought. This was the work that would make me famous…. or at least get me tenure. Then  I read the abstract of the presentation scheduled back-to-back with mine. To be presented by some post doc named Joe. It was nearly the same set of experiments as mine! Who was this Joe guy and what right did he have inhabiting the same scientific world as me?
To make a long story short, I went to that meeting with my fists up, ready for a fight. I sought out this Joe guy (or he sought out me) and it took all of about 10 minutes to remember that a scientific competitor was not necessarily an enemy, but someone who was passionate about the same scientific questions as one’s self. Over the course of the conference and a few late night discussions over beers, Joe and I bonded. When one of the laureates snubbed both of our talks, we became scientific soul mates.
I have known Joe for nearly a decade now. We have reviewed each other’s papers, and I value his criticism above that of all others. He is a superb scientist. After the first encounter, whenever we were both invited to present at a conference, we would consult each other to coordinate our presentations. No, not matching outfits, but we tried to make the most of the collective time we were allotted to tell a compelling story of the science and the approach to science in which we both so deeply believed. Over the years, Joe and I have discovered that we share a love of teaching and care as much about our students as we do our publications. And we care about people, and the planet. I can’t remember the last time I thought of Joe as a competitor. Joe is my friend and friendships like these make up for all the other things that I didn’t want to tell my students.